New York

Charles Sandison

Yvon Lambert New York

It has always seemed that more artists should have followed Jenny Holzer’s lead, illuminating and animating words in order to address the complex variety of ways in which kinetic texts address us in everyday life. Charles Sandison is one of the few to have done so, and he accomplishes it by unbridling Holzer’s structure and uniformity, unleashing it in installations governed by an abstraction that is both visual and syntactic.

In earlier installations such as male & female, 2002, words, generated by a computer and projected onto walls, clustered together to form figures. In the works in this show, words move in constellations, colliding with and sometimes annihilating each other like the rudimentary avatars in early video games. In family unit (all works 2005), the words MALE, FEMALE, MOTHER, FATHER, CHILD, FOOD, OLD, VIRUS, THREAT, and DEAD coalesce to create a kind of living installation, a system that mimics natural life-cycles and ecosystems. Words, projected in simple white type, move independently around the walls in apparently random patterns.When an individual MALE bumps into a FEMALE, a CHILD is sometimes born. And if a MALE hits a VIRUS, DEATH may result.

Evolution—both biological and technological—is even more explicitly evoked in reading glass, 2005, a computer-generated data projection in which the entire text of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) is presented one, two, three, or four words at a time. The words, handwritten by Sandison’s seven-year-old daughter, are shaped by masses of dots that cluster together and then dissolve according to a formula derived from the algorithm generated by bacteria as they reproduce. The whole process takes approximately two years from start to finish.

Notes toward a thinking machine, 2005, shown in the rear gallery, is structured like a kinetic pattern-poem and recalls Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes (1913–16), the work of nineteenth-century English poet George Herber, and various Italian and Russian Futurist experiments. Here, MALE, FEMALE, and IT move in their own arc-shaped trajectories, while MEMORY, REMEMBER, FORGET, and SCARED progress horizontally within boundaries formed by lines drawn on the wall in charcoal; LOCKED, STUCK, BROKEN, and NAILED remain static within their own sketched frames. Notes recalls early digital art from the 1960s, which was often fixated on the novelty of the process by which it was produced. (Sandison’s idea of “drawing” with algorithms was cribbed directly from those early days.) But its weird structure, which suggests a rogue mathematical formula or uncontrollable virus (electronic or organic), also made it the most interesting work in the show. Wonderfully misshapen, it is an effectively messy counterpoint to more sanitized, rational electronic installations by the likes of Tatsuo Miyajima.

Sandison’s work is at its most interesting when it elides the boundary that separates order and chaos. The words that fill his installations drift between text and image, functioning like neurons firing in a multitude of directions at once. Like a lecturer going off on one absorbing tangent after another, his work ranges over genetics, genealogy, biology, evolution, artificial intelligence, and, of course, language. The lives of humans and machines here become merged in the mind of the computer, hinting at a nexus of intelligence based in the reality of the present but tweaked just enough to suggest a dystopian future.

Martha Schwendener